New bio claims Obama dumped girl he asked to marry him because politically awkward that she wasn’t black
People do foolish stuff when they're young, especially if love (and sex) is involved. That said, when the foolishness includes craven political calculation overriding the messages of the heart, well, that's an indication that basic character may be at play.
A new, very long biography of the young Barack Obama, written by David J. Garrow, Rising Star: The Making of Barack Obama, sheds new and interesting light on Obama's character. In the words of Washington Post writer Carlos Lozada:
David J. Garrow … tells us how Obama lived, and explores the calculations he made in the decades leading up to his winning the presidency. Garrow portrays Obama as a man who ruthlessly compartmentalized his existence; who believed early on that he was fated for greatness; and who made emotional sacrifices in the pursuit of a goal that must have seemed unlikely to everyone but him. Every step – whether his foray into community organizing, Harvard Law School, even the choice of whom to love – was not just about living a life but about fulfilling a destiny.
It is in the personal realm that Garrow's account is particularly revealing. He shares for the first time the story of a woman Obama lived with and loved in Chicago, in the years before he met Michelle, and whom he asked to marry him. Sheila Miyoshi Jager, now a professor at Oberlin College, is a recurring presence in "Rising Star," and her pained, drawn-out relationship with Obama informs both his will to rise in politics and the trade-offs he deems necessary to do so. Garrow, who received a Pulitzer Prize for his biography of Martin Luther King Jr., concludes this massive new work with a damning verdict on Obama's determination: "While the crucible of self-creation had produced an ironclad will, the vessel was hollow at its core."
With such a critical perspective, is anyone surprised that The New York Times trashed the book in its review? Can't have people escaping the bubble and getting negativity about The One.
The details that emerge are somewhat troubling, if racialism and ambition above all human emotion bothers you:
Jager, who in "Dreams From My Father" was virtually written out, compressed into a single character along with two prior Obama girlfriends, may have evoked something of Obama's distant mother, Stanley Ann Dunham. Like Dunham, Jager studied anthropology, and while Dunham focused on Indonesia, Jager developed a deep expertise in the Korean Peninsula. Jager was of Dutch and Japanese ancestry, fitting the multicultural world Obama was only starting to leave behind. They were a natural fit. Jager soon came to realize, she told Garrow, that Obama had "a deep-seated need to be loved and admired."
She describes their life together as an isolating experience, "an island unto ourselves" in which Obama would "compartmentalize his work and home life." She did not meet Jeremiah Wright, the pastor with a growing influence on Obama, and they rarely saw his professional colleagues socially. The friends they saw were often graduate students at the University of Chicago, where Sheila was pursuing her doctorate. They traveled together to meet her family as well as his. Soon they began speaking of marriage.
"In the winter of '86, when we visited my parents, he asked me to marry him," she told Garrow. Her parents were opposed, less for any racial reasons (Barack came across to them like "a white, middle-class kid," a close family friend said) than for concern about Obama's professional prospects, and because her mother thought Sheila, two years Obama's junior, was too young. "Not yet," Sheila told Barack. But they stayed together.
In early 1987, when Obama was 25, she sensed a change. "He became. . . so very ambitious" very suddenly," she told Garrow. "I remember very clearly when this transformation happened, and I remember very specifically that by 1987, about a year into our relationship, he already had his sights on becoming president."
The conflict produced some genuine drama:
Discussions of race and politics suddenly overwhelmed Sheila and Barack's relationship. "The marriage discussions dragged on and on," but now they were clouded by Obama's "torment over this central issue of his life ... race and identity," Sheila recalls. The "resolution of his black identity was directly linked to his decision to pursue a political career," she said.
In Garrow's telling, Obama made emotional judgments on political grounds. A close mutual friend of the couple recalls Obama explaining that "the lines are very clearly drawn. . . . If I am going out with a white woman, I have no standing here." And friends remember an awkward gathering at a summer house, where Obama and Jager engaged in a loud, messy fight on the subject for an entire afternoon. ("That's wrong! That's wrong! That's not a reason," they heard Sheila yell from their guest room, their arguments punctuated by bouts of makeup sex.) Obama cared for her, Garrow writes, "yet he felt trapped between the woman he loved and the destiny he knew was his."
Just days before he would depart for Harvard Law School – and when the relationship was already coming apart – Obama asked her to come with him and get married, "mostly, I think, out of a sense of desperation over our eventual parting and not in any real faith in our future," Sheila explained to Garrow. At the time, she was heading to Seoul for dissertation research, and she resented his assumption she would automatically postpone her career for his. More arguments ensued, and each went their way, although not for good.
Having dumped his mixed-race would-be bride over political appearances, Obama went on the Harvard. Once again, Garrow earns his pan from the NYT by reporting on less than attractive reactions to Obama at Harvard Law. I have to say as someone who spent almost two decades at Harvard that these reactions sound much more genuine that the presumed adulation involved in Obama becoming president of the Harvard Law Review:
At Harvard, the Obama the world has come to know took clearer form. In his late 20s now and slightly older than most classmates, he had a compulsion to orate in class and summarize other people's arguments for them. "In law school the only thing I would have voted for Obama to do would have been to shut up," one student told Garrow. Classmates created a Obamanometer, ranking "how pretentious someone's remarks are in class."
Garrow obviously has discovered facts that contradict the hagiography...which makes this book worth reading.